A church in Northern Ireland, which had a newspaper ad banned for using the biblical word sodomy, has had the ban overturned in the High Court.
ASA, the UK advert censor banned the ad in 2008, but the court said banning the ad was a breach of the church’s rights to free speech.
The judge, Justice Treacy, said the ad quoted well-known passages of the Bible and constituted a genuine attempt to stand up for the church’s beliefs.
Justice Treacy said:
Whilst such views and scriptural references may be strongly disdained and considered seriously offensive by some, this does not justify the full scope of the restrictions contained in the impugned determination.
The judge also said the ad must be read in context. He pointed out that at the previous year’s Gay Pride march a banner stating Jesus is a fag was carried, uninterrupted, by one of the participants. He also said the advertisement did not condone and was not likely to provoke violence.
Rev David McIlveen described the decision as a landmark ruling, meaning that scripture could be quoted freely.
In 2008 Sandown Free Presbyterian Church placed an advert in the Belfast News Letter calling on people to meet in a gospel witness against the act of sodomy. The Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) received seven complaints about the advert and banned any further publication with the comment:
The ASA noted the ad prominently stated Published by the Kirk Session of Sandown Free Presbyterian Church and recognised that readers would understand that the text was representative of the beliefs of a specific group and indicative of their opinion only. We considered, however, that some of the text used in relation to homosexuality, for example, … declaring it to be an abomination …, ... God’s judgement upon a sin …, ... remove the guilt of their wrongdoing …, … a cause for regret that a section of the community desire to be known for a perverted form of sexuality …, went further than the majority of readers were likely to find acceptable.
We considered that particular care should be taken to avoid causing offence on the grounds of sexual orientation, and concluded that this ad had caused serious offence to some readers.
On this point, the ad breached CAP Code clause 5.1 (Decency) but did not breach 8.1 (Matters of opinion).